SFD offers space heater safety advice

Faith Lifer
Staff Writer

After a Starkville citizen voiced his concern over space heater safety at the Starkville Board of Aldermen meeting Tuesday night, the Starkville Fire Department offered some safety tips to the community.

SFD Fire Marshall Stein McMullen said most fires caused by space heaters in Starkville are due to an improper amount of space between a heater and a combustible item.

“The res that we have caused by space heaters are putting the space heaters near curtains, towels or clothes laying nearby or sticking it under a table,” McMullen said. “(For example,) if you’ve left it under a table and it causes overheating at the bottom of the table.”

McMullen said to give the space heater at least three feet of clear space around it and to keep the heater on a hard, level surface.

“Putting it on carpet is not a good idea,” McMullen said.

“Keep kids and pets away because they can knock them over or push them against furniture or something like that,” McMullen added.

When using electric space heaters, McMullen said to plug them directly into the wall.

“You don’t need to use extension chords or a surge protector because they can cause the surge protector or extension chord to overheat,” McMullen said. “They’re not properly sized for the amount of electricity owing through them.”

A recent incident in the Starkville Fire Department was also a reminder of important safety tips when using space heaters. McMullen said a space heater burnt the floor of an employee’s office.

“The reason it was burnt wasn’t because of the space heater or the way (the employee) used it, just over time, the chord wore out,” McMullen said.

“I’m using this as an example because if (the employee) hadn’t been there, the station probably would have had a lot more damage than a little spot on the floor,” McMullen said.

He said the employee saw the sparks coming out when the fire started burning. Once unplugged, the fire went out. McMullen estimates the heater was around 15 years old.

“If you have a space heater, you want to be there when it’s on,” McMullen said. “If you leave the room and you’re going to be gone a lot, you need to unplug it.”

For this reason, McMullen said it’s important to keep the heater in the open, where it can be noticed.

“In offices, people put them under their desks, but the fire code says they’re supposed to be three feet from combustibles. We run into that a lot,” McMullen said. “Another issue is people leaving work and not unplugging them.”

“If I have it under my desk, there’s a good chance of me forgetting that I have it plugged up under there,” McMullen added. “If you can see it when you’re leaving, you’ll realize it’s still on.”

McMullen said SFD has only had two incidents caused by a space heater in an office, including the recent incident at SFD. In both cases, people were in the office with the space heater and any serious damage was prevented.

McMullen also said it’s important to check the electrical chords of space heaters to make sure they’re not frayed or damaged, especially in the case of older space heaters.

“Some space heaters are safer than others,” McMullen said. “The newer ones are a lot safer...if they fall over, they cut off. If they overheat, there’s a little fuse on there that burns out.”

McMullen said Starkville has also had fires from people using their ovens as space heaters.

“They’d open their stove and turn the heat up real high trying to heat the house up that way,” McMullen said.

“Don’t heat your house with your stove,” McMullen continued. “The stove is not designed for that. They’re designed to heat small spaces the size of the oven itself.”

“Anything over that, you’re putting way too much stress on the appliance itself and all the power chords run- ning to it,” McMullen added.

He said the stress caused by heating a house with a stove could eventually lead to a fire.

“It may not this year, it may not next year, but down the road, the wire heats up and cools off and the insulation around it heats up and cools off,” McMullen said. “Over time (the chord) gets brittle and eventually the wires inside get to where they touch and that’s when you have the fire.”

Heating your house with a stove, or even a space heater, are also expensive methods for heating.

“It’s very expensive. A blow dryer’s the most expensive thing to use, then the space heater is right behind the blow dryer and then the oven is right behind that,” McMullen said with a chuckle.

In terms of outdoor heaters, McMullen said most shouldn’t cause problems if the manufacturer instructions are followed.

“We’ve had one to fall over because of high winds. people are using them in high winds and don’t need to be doing that,” McMullen said. “But other than that, if they’re used as intended, they’re safe.”

McMullen said SFD has also had cases where people use fuel-fired space heaters indoors, which he advises against.

“We’ve had people that use kerosene and diesel fuel heaters in their home and those are not recommended for inside use because of the fumes,” McMullen said. “They put off so much carbon dioxide.”

“They’re intended for open spaces, somewhere there is proper ventilation and most houses don’t have proper ventilation,” he concluded.